Accentuate the Positive

There is more often than not, a greater number of negative communications between teachers and parents these days: phone calls home about no homework, or emails about a poor application to study. So, I have decided to try to outweigh this by sending home positive letters.

I feel that phones calls are too temporary: once you hang up the phone and the busy parents goes about the rest of their day, they might forget what you said, and forget to pass on the praise to their child. Emails too are often buried under others in the inbox lists: bills, bills, and bills.

Letters, however, are more permanent. They carry more weight than a phone call and aren’t as easily forgotten. They can Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.39.11 AMbe held, and re-read without the worry of them being buried in the matrix of a bunch of 0s and 1s in an email inbox. And most of all, they can publicly praise a student’s progress. So, to that end, as well as sending out positive letters, I have also ordered some magnets (as shown on the right) to also place in the envelope for the parents to stick the letter on the fridge, and really let their child’s achievements shine!

W7 T3 2016 Reflection

It’s Saturday, and another school week is in the books. Time to reflect on the week that was, and recharge for the next challenge.

This week has seen me take (what I hope will be) a positive turn in my teaching and learning: flipped learning. On Tuesday, I attended a flipped learning professional development day, and I was left in awe of how the presenter has embraced flipped learning and the passion she has for it. I left the day so inspired, and I have already put what I have learned into action, creating some flipped videos of my own!

There was, however, a negative in the week, with news from BOSTES that if I were to put in my application for Highly Accomplished Teacher status, I would have a low likelihood of success. That was a downer, however, I see it as a great learning experience, because now I can reassess and improve my practice in the areas they indicated that need work.

Last night was the school’s annual trivia night to raise money for The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Whilst my team didn’t win, we managed to raise about $6000 for the hospital. It was a fun night, and I’m looking forward to next year!

W6 T3 2016 Reflection

It’s Saturday, and another school week is in the books. Time to reflect on the week that was, and recharge for the next challenge.

This week has been a bit more eventful than the last few for me, but it wasn’t until the middle of the week that much actually happened!

Wednesday saw a Staff vs Student pasta eating contest. I’ve never done anything like this at school before, so it was good to give it a go and get involved at my new school! It was a relay event with six staff and six students ranging from Year 7 to Year 12. I was second in line, and managed to finish my bowl rather quickly (I am Italian and I do love my food). Of course, the staff won (by three people, might I add). I’m looking forward to more things like that in the future.

Thursday night saw the launch of my EduTwitter chat, #HASSchat! It was such a rush! It may have been myself and three others, but, I can only see this going up from here! You can check out the chat archive by clicking here.

Yesterday saw me and my colleagues take part in a Staff Spirituality Day in Mittagong. The theme was presence. Just a day to relax and think about something other than work. It was easy to relax when the location was so great!

W5 T3 2016 Reflection

It’s Saturday, and another school week is in the books. Time to reflect on the week that was, and recharge for the next challenge.

This week has seen me attend a Professional Development day (the first day of three in this course) about managing behavioural issues in students. This is a great course so far, as too often you go to PD days and you just sit there and listen to someone, however, this actually involves you creating your own behaviour management plans for students. When PD is more hands-on and practical, it makes it more relevant and worthwhile (just how students feel about school).

Other than that, it has been a fairly good week. Term 3 is generally a bit kinder.

Announcing the Launch of #HASSchat!

I’m pleased to announce the launch of a new EduTwitter chat, aimed at K-12 teachers of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS).

#HASSchat Launch

It will run on the last Thursday of every month at 7pm (Sydney time). I encourage you all to join me and other great educators to discuss the night’s topic! This first chat will be held on Thursday 25 August, and the topic will be the relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences today.

#HASSchat Calendar

W4 T3 2016 Reflection

It’s Saturday, and another school week is in the books. Time to reflect on the week that was, and recharge for the next challenge.

It has been another relatively quiet week for me. That’s two in a row now, meaning that there’ll probably be something happening soon to shake me around.

I’m still enjoying my standing desk, and am noticing that my neck isn’t as sore at is used to be when I sat.

I’m also considering attempting Highly Accomplished Teacher accreditation status. I have filled out the pre-assessment and am now waiting to hear back to see if I would be suitable for this process at this point in time.

Is There A Problem with (Edu)Twitter?

[I don’t want this to be a negative post, but I will come across as being a little cynical. Please respect my opinion and I encourage a healthy (and respectful) debate.]

I have been on Twitter for about 5 years now and have interacted with a wide variety of people from comedians to politicians, but I’ve only harnessed the power of Twitter for education/professional use within the last 2 years or so. Once you get past all of the clichéd inspirational photos that remind you to ‘be strong’ and ‘remember your goal’ (like as if you’d forgotten what your main job is), and the mutual back-slapping, Twitter is a powerful tool to connect with other like-minded individuals. What I’ve seen in my time using Twitter professionally has been a mixed-bag of amazing ideas and also negative posts. I thought I was the only one who felt like this, but then I saw this tweet:

This tweet inspired me to finally put down my thoughts on (digital) paper. As professional adults all with the same goal of educating the future leaders of the world, I would’ve thought that there would be more positivity and collegiality. Now, don’t get me wrong… there is plenty of collegiality on Twitter, and I often rely on my PLN to give me advice or reassurance, however, every now and then, I spot a glimpse of teacher shaming.

What I want to focus on is ‘expert’ teachers (truth be told, some of them aren’t even teachers, but rather consultants) with an educational ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude holding court as if they are the utmost authority on something telling you what they are doing and then guilting you because you don’t do the same thing as them. These ‘expert’ teachers are operating in a different set of circumstances as everyone else: their school might have more resources, they may have more time off to develop new strategies, their school system might allow them to try different things without the fear of being reprimanded for having a go.

You still use paper worksheets? Then you are not a very good teacher and are negatively impacting the learning of your students.

You don’t flip your classroom? Then you mustn’t care about the learning of your students.

You don’t harness the power of coding and robotics? Then you obviously don’t care about giving your students 21st Century skills.

What even are ’21st Century skills’? I understand that engineering and computing are the way of the future, but what about compassion as well? As Doug mentions in his tweet above, this really hurts your instinct.

Not all teachers have the ability to ditch paper worksheets or to flip their classroom or to use coding and robotics. This is for a number of reasons: time, money, resources… even the culture of the school. Perhaps the worst thing about this is is that it then makes the teachers who don’t do it feel worthless or that they are incompetent. I have known some teachers with 30+ years of teaching experience… and they have never flipped their classroom, never heard of coding, and have never used a HyperDoc, but their students still come out of that class both a better person and with high grades.

I’ve worked in schools before where I asked if I could flip ONE of my classes, and I was quickly told no ‘because they didn’t want angry parents calling in complaining about the change.’ Someone quickly said ‘why didn’t you just flip it anyway without telling anyone?’ To that, I said ‘unfortunately, nothing is secret anymore in the world of education. If I go behind a superior’s back, then I’m asking for trouble, particularly as a newly qualified teacher.’ I didn’t have enough clout to go and ‘change the world’ like I thought I would be doing when I was undertaking my degree. So, does this make me a ‘bad’ teacher? I still gave my students my 100% commitment to them, and I did everything I could to give them a great education, but I was still guilted into feeling like a failure.

Newly qualified teachers particularly are most affected by this as they are still ‘finding themselves.’ They need to form their own identity and instinct as a teacher and see what does and does not work, and then they can make necessary adjustments based on the best practice that others teachers are spearheading. They have so much going on within the first year or two of their career: they need to get to know the school and its policies, the system and its policies, the students, and a lot more.

Then, add on top of that someone in a different situation to you telling you that everything you’re doing is wrong and ineffective. How would that make you feel? You’re being bombarded by Twitter posts saying that flipping your classroom or coding is the only way to get your students to achieve at the highest level possible, and if you don’t flip it or use coding, then you aren’t a good teacher. How would that make you feel? You start to doubt yourself and your ability as a teacher. Then, burn-out is a real concern as you’re trying to change yourself both as a person and a teacher as quickly as possible in order to fit the mould that the ‘expert’ teachers have built.

Don’t be guilted by others into changing yourself. Yes, it is important to try new teaching methods for the benefit of our students, but, we shouldn’t be doing it because we are being shamed or guilted into doing it by someone else. We keep telling our students to never give up, and to not change for others. Why don’t we follow our own clichéd mantras?

W3 T3 2016 Reflection

It’s Saturday, and another school week is in the books. Time to reflect on the week that was, and recharge for the next challenge.

This has been a relatively quiet week, which is often rare in the life of a teacher.

I’m pretty excited that the first two articles I’ve ever written have been published by the Geography Teachers’ Association of New South Wales journal. I’m now on a motivational high and have a few more in the works for other journals as well.

I’m also enjoying my standing desk so far. In 3 weeks, I’ve noticed my neck isn’t as sore as it used to be when I was sitting all day. I’m now more inclined to continue with it permanently now.

Dealing with Illness As A New Teacher

This post marks the first time I’ve publicly, and on paper, spoken about my illness.

In late 2013, after only a few months in full-time employment as a teacher, I noticed a lump developing on my neck. After reluctantly going to get it looked at, I was diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At the start of 2014 (Valentine’s Day no less), I was sitting in a chemotherapy chair having drain cleaner pumped into my veins. I was currently teaching my first ever HSC class, and I weighed up what to do. Do I call it quits for 6 months or more, or do I juggle teaching and treatment?

I came to my decision relatively quickly and without hesitation: I would have chemotherapy treatment every second Friday, take the weekend to recover, and then get back to school on Monday. I didn’t want my Year 12 students to suffer in their education because of me. This went on for 6 months, and not once did I let the treatment get me down. In fact, I’m pretty sure school kept my mind off of my illness! My students were extremely supportive as well and looked out for me as much as they could.

During the chemotherapy, I developed a form of psychological issue: whenever I got to the hospital and saw the cannula needle, I would begin to tense up and feel ill. It got to the point where I needed to have 2 types of sedatives to knock me out, because on a number of occasions, I got so anxious that my veins seized up and blew the needle out. Unless I was asleep for the whole process, I wouldn’t be able to cope. I’m not going to lie, many times I just didn’t think I would be able to handle it all. But, I pulled through.

After 6 months of chemotherapy treatment, I shifted to radiotherapy, and this is where I really crashed. Whilst the chemotherapy took my hair and made me look like a Simpson (yellow skin), the radiotherapy took away the most important thing a teacher has: my voice. Because my lump was on my neck (and there was also one inside my lung), the frame of radiotherapy included my throat region. After about session 5 of 15 of radiotherapy, my throat was essentially cooked. After 6 months of stoically handling chemotherapy, I fell at the last hurdle. I had to take 2 weeks off of work because there isn’t much use for a teacher who can’t speak.

I am happy to say that after a horror year, by the end of 2014 I was in full remission (and still enjoy that status today). The tattoos that adorn my torso from the radiotherapy are badges of honour for me now: they remind me that I am human, they remind me of the passion I showed for my students, and they remind me that I won.

                    2013                                                        2014                                                         2015

W2 T3 2016 Reflection

It’s Saturday, and another school week is in the books. Time to reflect on the week that was, and recharge for the next challenge.

It’s been a great week at school, filled with fun and learning. I have been lucky enough to have been selected to be the teacher contact for the students participating in a student leadership pilot program being run by one of the biggest corporate team building companies in the nation. The students are really engaged, and I’m really excited about the calibre of the future leaders our country will enjoy!

On Wednesday, I introduced my Year 10 Commerce class to the BreakoutEDU concept.

I have never seen students so engaged in a lesson before. They were checking every nook and cranny in the room, wondering if even the smallest or oddest of items may have been a clue to unlocking the box and accessing the lollipops inside. They had 45 minutes to break in, but only needed 25 (I’d like to think that it was because I’ve done a great job at honing their collaborative and critical-thinking skills). Since then, they have asked me when they can do it again. I’ve also taken the box ‘on-the-road’ as teachers are asking about the box and if they can run a lesson with it as well. There’s nothing quite like seeing such high-intesnsity learning!

Friday was Hospital Heroes Day, and staff and students dressed up as their favourite heroes to raise money for the Children’s Hospital. Of course, I had to go as Clark Kent.

The students particularly loved the fringe curl, which is surprising as the Clark Kent of their generation doesn’t have a fringe curl. I also know that Clark Kent doesn’t have a beard, but there aren’t many last-minute options to dress up as when you have a beard and not much lying around the house to do anything with.

I’m also pretty excited that I’ve been asked to peer review a new education book. Whilst it seems like nothing massive in the grand scheme of things, for someone at the relative start of their career, to be asked for an opinion on a book that may shape the world of education is a big deal!

The only negative from this week is outside of the classroom and in the world of EduTwitter. There has been a lot of negativity and bullying, causing colleagues to turn against each other and question others’ motives. As professional adults who are meant to be role models of digital citizenship, this is absolutely deplorable. We need to take a step back and re-assess what we are doing here. We cannot continue like this if we want to be seen as professionals and adults.